Ups and downs this month for Woonsocket businesses
Ups and downs this month for Woonsocket businesses
WOONSOCKET - A few Woonsocket businesses closed their doors for good this month, but it's not all bad news on the city's economic front, as long-vacant properties in highly visible sections of town have finally seen some action.
After 11 years of serving breakfast in a friendly shop on Diamond Hill Road, Yolks went out of business on Sept. 22, adding yet another empty space to a nearly deserted Walnut Hill Plaza. The departure of Shaw's from the same plaza in July left many questioning the city's plan for the once vibrant Diamond Hill business district, which has seen an exodus of stores over the past few years, accelerated by the increased competition from nearby Dowling Village in North Smithfield.
The property, managed by Acadia Realty Trust, has failed to attract new tenants and space in the plaza is laid out in a style more popular in the 1970s and 80s, with a single line of adjoining storefronts surrounding an enormous central parking lot.
"I sent a letter off to Acadia today because they're never going to compete with Dowling Village with the set up they have now," said Economic Development Director Matthew Wojcik. "If they just try to fill slots right now they could be waiting a few years."
In the past, he said, Acadia representatives have indicated that they would consider tearing down the plaza to reconfigure the space if Shaw's, once an anchor store, ever left.
Wojcik said there have been some promising developments in the Diamond Hill area.
A purchase and sales agreement is currently in effect for the property on the corner of Mendon and Diamond Hill roads that once housed Vermette's. The building on the lot was demolished in 2011, and the Department of Transportation currently has plans underway for improvement to the intersection, with construction expected to begin during summer 2014. The proposed buyer for the property is undisclosed.
Meanwhile, Wojcik said, a "reputable agent" is in the process of finally creating a real estate listing for the property that Lowe's Home Improvement vacated earlier this year.
Elsewhere in the city, Rob Roy Academy, a hair and beauty school with locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, has purchased and renovated two blighted Main Street buildings and is preparing for an opening sometime next month. The school currently operates from a rented space on Clinton Street.
Owners Robert Lapierre and Roy Samra purchased two adjoining buildings between Chan's and the railway bridge and have been renovating the buildings with the help of local contractors. The location once held Woonsocket Hearing Aid and Center Beauty Salon, and were later purchased by Massachusetts developers with the intent to create condominiums. That developer went bankrupt, and in the years that followed, sprinklers burst, causing water damage, and the properties fell victim to neglect.
"They've been vacant for a very long time," Wojcik said. "This is good new for Main Street."
The move marks an expansion for the school's Woonsocket location, which will be adding three or four full-time jobs.
After cutting the building "down to nothing" and rebuilding the structure from the inside out, the company is now working on redoing the facade. The project is expected to be completed in around a month.
That news counters disappointing progress on other projects in the city.
The plan to create a shopping center on the large, vacant Hamlet Avenue property that once held the French Worsted Mill has been put on hold indefinitely. Developer Saxon Partners had agreed to purchase the newly-leveled 6.5 acre site from owner Henry Vara, to create a combined retail/restaurant space including a grocery store. The city passed zoning changes to accommodate the project and even added supermarkets to the list of allowed uses, but the developer has reportedly not been unable to secure enough tenants to move forward. Aldi's, a grocer that recently opened a store in Dowling Village, had shown interest in the Davison Street property, but has since backed out of the deal.
On Social Street, the Shell gas station has closed, and for the past two weeks the company has been removing signs and equipment from the property.
"I am told by building officials and fire officials that the Shell station was, in fact, not making money," explained Wojcik. "When the lease ran out and the operator realized they were responsible for the cost of new tanks and pumps should they remain open, the economics were too aggressive."
The car wash at the station, however, will remain open.
Another possible development involves Sims Metal Management Ltd., a scrap metal recycling company with locations across the country. In September, the company received a second hand dealer's permit for a location on Cumberland Hill Road. The yard, which Sims is slated to rent from neighboring Beam Truck, would reportedly be used to store metals destined for other locations.
City officials said residents have raised concerns over whether or not material in the lot will be covered.
"If they're going to accept car engines and great big chunks of metal, that's really a junk yard," said Wojcik.
The company is currently in talks with the city's zoning officials to work out a compromise, which could include the construction of a non-permanent structure with a roof.
A request by a successful Providence restaurateur for a zoning variance to open a location at 1077 Park Ave., meanwhile, was denied. The City Council had voted to issue a Class BV license to Blake's Pub and Pizzeria contingent on the Zoning Board's final approval, but several neighbors testified against the project.
Wojcik says the proprietor has not given up on the idea, and is currently working on reforming her zoning application.
"Everyone wants economic development," Wojcik said of the neighbor's testimony. "They just don't want it in their back yard."